Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
ALTERNATE NAME: The World Hindu Council
LEADER: Praveen Togadia
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1964
ESTIMATED SIZE: Thousands
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: India; worldwide
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, is a Hindu extremist organization formed with the purpose of promoting Hinduism in India and the world. The VHP is an offshoot of another extremist Hindu organization—the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The group was reportedly formed in 1964. However, it is thought to have gained prominence only since the 1980s. The VHP, as of 2005, reportedly has thousands of members worldwide.
Members of the RSS (the parent organization of Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and prominent Hindu thinkers in India and abroad were reportedly invited to Mumbai (then Bombay) in India in August 1964. According to published reports, it was decided at the meeting that a new organization by the name of Vishwa Hindu Parishad would be formed and launched two years later, in 1966, at a world convention of Hindus.
Soon after its inception, the VHP turned its focus on the Ramjanmbhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram) issue in Ayodhya, India. Hindu extremists allege that the place where Babri mosque is built in Ayodhya, in the western state of Uttar Pradesh, is the birthplace of Lord Ram (a revered Hindu God). Hindu fundamentalists, including the VHP, have been propagating the notion that the Babri mosque be "replaced" by a Hindu temple of Ram at the disputed site.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad reportedly expanded its member base garnering more support for the Ramjanmbhoomi and other issues. During the 1980s, the VHP also formed other organizations. As thought by most analysts, the most prominent was the formation of its youth wing—the Bajrang Dal (or Army of Lord Hanuman), in 1984. Experts state that the Bajrang Dal is more aggressive in its approach and tactics as compared to VHP. It is during the 1980s that the VHP formed an alliance with the Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP)—a national political party in India that has formed the Indian central government a few times since.
The VHP and its associate organizations stepped up the demands for demolition of the Babri mosque by the late 1980s. Analysts state that by the early 1990s, the Ram temple/Babri mosque dispute had become a national issue. Subsequently, on December 6, 1992, thousands of activists from VHP, BJP, and other similar organizations destroyed part of the Babri mosque structure. This incident caused widespread condemnation in India and around the world.
The aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition is thought by most to be one of the darkest periods in Indian history. Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in many parts of the country, especially Mumbai. Several thousand Hindus and Muslims were reportedly killed. The Indian government set up commissions to assess the role of BJP and VHP in inciting the Babri mosque demolition, and later the riots. Many VHP members were convicted. Sanctions were placed on the VHP, and many leaders were prevented from speaking at public rallies.
The situation calmed down in subsequent years. Reportedly, VHP still held extensive campaigns to promote its Ram Temple ideologies. In early 2002, the VHP allegedly heightened the tension once again after claiming that they wanted to perform a religious ceremony at the disputed site.
On February 27, 2002, more than 50 activists from the VHP were traveling from Ayodhya to the western state of Gujarat in a train. After reaching the city of Godhra (in Gujarat), the activists reportedly started shouting Hindu slogans that angered a mob of Muslims. The mob allegedly burnt the train, killing all the activists. This incident once again triggered Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat. According to news reports and Gujarat government figures, hundreds of Muslims and Hindus were killed in the riots.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad was formed by the RSS in 1964 to promote Hinduism and give Hindus a "sense of identity," as claimed by the group. According to analysts, at the time, leaders of the RSS felt the need to unite Hindus around the world in order to maintain and uphold Hindu values. The leaders claimed that other religions were more popular around the world because they were more organized and uniform as compared to Hinduism. The VHP is a non-political organization.
The VHP's main objective since the 1980s has been to build a temple for Lord Ram at the site where Babri mosque stands, in Ayodhya. To propagate its ideologies and garner more support for the temple, the VHP held peaceful demonstrations and rallies in various parts of the country. It also fought a legal battle in a bid to get the temple built. However, as analysts and reports suggest, by the late 1980s all measures failed. It is thought by most that these repeated failures led the VHP to adopt far more aggressive and violent tactics.
Reportedly, various leaders started holding demonstrations that were perceived to be anti-Muslim. In December 1992, leaders of the VHP allegedly led thousands of Hindu activists to the Babri mosque and destroyed part of the structure.
Many experts state that the transformation of VHPs tactics from peaceful demonstrations to hostile and forceful activities was due to a growing belief among its members (and followers) that the interests of Hindus were not being taken care of by the government. Many members of the group also alleged that religious leaders (of other religions such as Islam and Christianity) were promoting the conversion of Hindus to their religion in various parts of the country.
The tactics of the VHP have been reportedly violent ever since the Babri demolition. The group was banned by the government of India (the ban was, however, lifted in 1995), and leaders such as Praveen Togadia were barred from making public speeches. The Gujarat riots of 2002 are alleged to be instigated by leaders of the VHP.
The riots caused a massive furor in other parts of India. Political parties alleged that the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, had been negligent in handling the situation and had supported the VHP in justifying the riots. As of 2005, most political parties and people of India hold Narendra Modi and VHP responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots. The decades-long Ram temple-Babri mosque dispute still persists.
Indian government officials, leading anti-extremism analysts, as well as human rights workers have often condemned the actions of the VHP. According to a report by Amnesty International in 2004, the riots in Gujarat (in 2002) were mainly instigated by the VHP and BJP. The report stated, "More than 2,000 people had been killed in early 2002 in the wave of violence targeting the Muslim community. These killings followed an attack on a train in Godhra in February 2002 in which fifty-nine Hindus were killed by a mob. [Other] reports implicated police officers and members of Hindu nationalist groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the ruling BJP in the violence against Muslims."
However, the allegations that VHP was responsible for the riots have also been disputed. Justice Nanavati, who served as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, part of the Nanavati commission set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the riots, stated in an interview to a news agency (as reported in Outlook India), "Yes, there have been instances where people have said the Bajrang Dal and VHP workers at the local level instigated people to riot. But the complaints are primarily of a very general nature. There is no real evidence that has been brought to name individual Bajrang Dal or VHP leaders."
The VHP claims to be the only organization (along with its parent entity—the RSS) in the world fighting for the rights of Hindus. Ever since its inception in the 1960s, the main focus of the VHP has been the construction of Ram temple at the Babri mosque site in Ayodhya.
The VHP has had several prominent leaders throughout its period of existence. Since the mid 1990s, Praveen Togadia is thought to be one of the most vocal and controversial leaders of the organization. Praveen Togadia, a resident of the state of Gujarat, is a qualified oncologist. He owns hospitals in and around Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat.
Togadia joined the VHP in the early 1990s, and ever since is known to be the foremost in propagating the radical Hindu ideologies of the group. According to published reports in the media, due to his inflammatory speeches, the government of India banned him from public speaking in the late 1990s. He has reportedly also been arrested numerous times on the charge of inciting Hindu people against Muslims.
As of 2005, Togadia serves as the International General Secretary of the VHP.
- VHP launched at a world convention of Hindus, in Allahabad, India.
- VHP forms the Bajrang Dal—its youth wing.
- Many VHP activists, along with members of the BJP, succeed in destroying part of the Babri mosque structure. This incident is followed by widespread riots throughout India. VHP is subsequently banned by the Indian government.
- VHP activists are allegedly burnt to death by a Muslim mob in Godhra, Gujarat. Hindu-Muslim riots break out in Godhra and other parts of Gujarat. Thousands are reportedly killed.
Self-proclamations by leaders of the VHP state that all Indians who do not support their views are "traitors." The group's leaders claim that India as a country can move forward only when non-Hindus accept Hindu superiority. Reportedly, the group is viewed by many in India and around the world as a fundamentalist Hindu organization.
BBC News. "Profile: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1860202.stm〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).
Outlook India.com. "Ltd Evidence against VHP, Bajrang Dal in Guj Riots." 〈http://outlookindia.com/pti_print.asp?id=142748〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).
Time Asia Magazine. "Hindu Backlash: Is India's Hindu Nationalist Government Taking Steps to Rein in Its Own Hardliners?" 〈http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/article/0,13673,501031027-524518,00.html〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).
U.S. Department of State. "International Religious Freedom Report 2004." 〈http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35516.htm〉 (accessed October 3, 2005).